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Looming Perth airport train line opening date sparks concern among train drivers

There are concerns the completion of Perth's new airport train line will be rushed, with the train driver's union saying the tunnel was still considered a construction site and had not been handed over to the government for assessment.

Transport minister Rita Saffioti announced the Forrestfield Airport Link would open on October 10 at a press conference last month, following years of delays.

That date is now just three weeks away, but the secretary of the Rail, Trams and Bus Union (RTBU), Joshua Dekuyer, said his members were starting to get nervous because the line was still considered a construction site and was yet to be handed to the Public Transport Authority (PTA).

"If it's given to the PTA just before opening, it limits our members' ability to ensure that current and accurate and relevant risk assessments [are] … carried out in time," he said.

Following meetings with the PTA and state government today, Mr Dekuyer said he understood the line will reach 'practical completion' and be handed over about a week before services begin, although no date has yet been set.

He said while that was still a short time to identify and fix issues, there was no reason to distrust that things would be ready.

That did not alleviate the union's desire to check the line for itself though, he said.

Questions remain over phone reception

Adding to those concerns was the history of the project, which in 2018 saw a worker suffer a serious head injury, before work was delayed for a year because of a sinkhole.

"The Metronet project, and the airport line, it's to be commended – but it has been plagued with safety and engineering issues over its construction, testing and commissioning stages," Mr Dekuyer said.

"I'm sure many of them have been rectified and I believe there's some that might be still outstanding, but we need to see and need to be made comfortable that all that stuff has been addressed.

"We're not saying it's not ready, we're just saying we just want to be made sure that it is ready."

Mr Dekuyer said he understood only phones using Telstra worked within the line's tunnels, but that Optus is expected to come online before the line opens, with other providers to follow either before or shortly after opening.

"The PTA engaged Telstra as the lead carrier for the airport line to ensure adequate coverage within tunnels," a state government spokesperson said.

"Telstra will engage with other carriers to ensure they join the network."

Mr Dekuyer said much would be learned once his union could gain access to the new infrastructure.

"We don't even really know what some of the issues might be because we haven't been in there to see it and a lot of our members haven't been in there to go through it from an OHS perspective," he said.

After requesting information from the PTA earlier this month, the RTBU was meeting with both the government and the state's public transport operator today.

Ahead of those meetings a spokesperson for Ms Saffioti would only say: "My office, along with the PTA, have had a collaborative relationship with the unions during the project and will continue to do so."

The line had been due to open in 2020, but over time that deadline drifted towards the first half of 2022, before the October opening was settled on. 

It means the line will only be open for a few months before being affected by postponed works on the Midland line, which will see it shut in January 2023.

The long-awaited line, which has been more than a decade in the making, will be the first major part of the government's Metronet strategy to reach completion having been started by the former Coalition government in 2016. 

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